No room for the in-form strikers

When the Spain squad was announced for the upcoming friendlies against England and Belgium, three strikers featured on the list – Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Paco Alcacer. This was nothing out of the ordinary. The forwards have been included in the squad prominently over the past 12 months, with the exception of injuries and time spent on the naughty step in the case of Costa, and there have been no complaints. But perhaps there should be.

Just take a look at the standings for the Pichichi, La Liga’s goal-scoring charts. In the top 10, there are seven Spaniards, of which only Nolito has received a call-up to the national side, and he isn’t even a striker. Imanol Agirretxe, Javi Guerra, Ruben Castro, Lucas Perez, Aritz Aduriz and Borja Baston are all there, but have not heard from Vicente del Bosque. 

This is juxtaposed with the selection processes seen in Europe’s other top Leagues. In the England’s Premier League, two of their top 10 goal scorers are English, and both have been called up to their national side. In Germany, Italy and France, two out of three have received a call-up. The sheer volume of Spanish forwards running for the Pichichi only highlights the quality of Spanish players and emphasises that clubs are a lot more willing to field home-grown talent than on the continent.

What is even more bemusing is the fact that Costa, Alcacer and Morata are nowhere to be seen in their respective League’s goal-scoring charts. Additionally, these games are friendlies, an opportunity for experimentation and to give in-form players a chance to impress in a Spain shirt. Costa has been way off the form of last season, although that can be said for the vast majority of the Chelsea squad. 

“Our midfield is good on the ball, with players whose touch is good, so we need forwards who create space, who move, who commit defenders, occupy them, and Diego does that,” Del Bosque said when asked about his much maligned attacker in an interview with The Guardian.

“How can Costa be harmful for us? We have him so he can get in behind, run channels, pull wide. We’ve not had much luck with him but there’s nothing that goes against our style. Now we’re choosing between him, Morata and Alcacer; in principle those are the three for the future.” 

So what is it that makes Del Bosque overlook the multitude of strikers at his disposal? Firstly, he mentions ‘the future’-  Aduriz, Guerra and Castro are all over 30, and although this should make no difference in the grand scheme of things, the Coach must be wary of building a team around players whose performances have probably hit a peak. 

Agirretxe, meanwhile, has never really been a consistent scorer. In his 11 seasons in La Liga, he has only ever reached 10 goals or more in a campaign on two occasions. He needs to be scoring frequently over much longer periods of time in order to be considered. 

As for Perez, the fact that he is being discussed as a striker must be as peculiar for him as it is for us. The Galician has been a right-winger up until this point in his career, and the pace and composure in front of goal that he has always possessed are certainly helping him out now. There is a sense, though, that Perez still has a lot to learn in his new role and a call-up right now would be too soon. 

Borja is still only 23, so perhaps there are still chances for him in his career if he continues his streak. Surely, though, Del Bosque has contemplated the form of these forwards.      

“You think about the development of every player, the form they’re in,” he said. “But often it’s about more than form: you can’t be forever calling up players just because they played well three days before. You have to have a sense of perspective, a criteria. We have to build a team.”

It would be quixotic to believe that every one of these players was going to play for Spain anyway, but it is unusual for a national team to have such an abundance of players on form in one position and for them not to be utilised.

Evidently, La Roja’s Coach has his preferences – three strikers who suit Spain’s system and style of play and who are young enough to base the future around. Good luck, then, to any other forward who has his sights set on a Spain call-up, because it probably isn’t going to materialise whilst Del Bosque is in charge.